The Discovery of Negative Ions
Humans have been experiencing the exhilerating effects of waterfalls and summer thunderstorms for thousands of years and never really knew why. The mystery first began to unravel during the late 18th century when it was observed that static electricity could affect the growth of plants.
Giuseppe Toaldo, a famous Italian physicist and professor, noticed that plants growing next to a lightning rod grew almost ten times taller than identical plants only a few feet away.
A French physicist by the name of Jean Antoine Nollet, planted several dozen mustard seeds in two separate containers and electrified one of them using an electrostatic generator. At the end of the week, every seed in the electrified container had sprouted and grown a few millimeters, while the other container showed little progress.
A friend of Benjamin Franklin, Abbe Bertholon, noticed that vegetables watered from a can that was electrified by an electrostatic generator, grew to an extroardinary size. He even invented an "electrovegetometer," to collect atmospheric electricity by means of an antenna and pass it on to plants growing in a field.
Even though it was repeatedly shown and documented that static electricity can improve the growth of plants, no one really understood why. It wasn't until 1899, when German physicists Julius Elster and Hans Friedrich Geitel, proved that electrostatic fields were based upon the existence of electrically charged particles called ions. Experiments later conducted at the Air Ion Laboratiry of the University of California verified that these electrically charged particles did, in fact, have a physiological effect on plants.
It was Dr. Clarence W. Hansell of RCA Laboratories who was the first to discover that ions could also have an impact on a person's state of mind. One day, in 1932, he started noticing the wild mood swings of a co-worker who worked beside an electrostatic generator. After investigating the matter further, he found that his colleague was happy and ebullient during the days when the generator was adjusted to produce negative ions, but more depressed and ill tempered on other days when it was producing positive ions.
Dr. Hansell then started noticing the effects of naturally occuring atmospheric ions. One day, while watching the approach of a thunderstorm, his ten-year old daughter suddenly began to dance across the grass with a radiant look on her face. She leaped up on a boulder, threw her arms wide to the dark sky, and cried, "Oh, I feel wonderful!"
Research conducted during the late 1950's by Albert P. Krueger, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology at the University of California, may have uncovered the mechanism underlying the mood altering effects of ionized air. He found a significant and consistant reduction in blood levels of serotonin (a powerful neuro-hormone) in mice exposed to air ion densities of 400,000 negative ions per cubic centimeter. He hypothesized that negative ions stimulate the action of monamine oxidase, speeding up the metabolic removal of serotonin. Further tests indicated that positive ions produced the opposite effect by blocking the action of monomine oxidase, causing blood serotonin levels to rise.
Dr. Felix G. Sulman, head of the department of Applied Pharmacology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, corroborate Krueger's findings when he discovered the underlying cause behind the unpleasant symptoms experienced by people that are sensitive to hot desert winds. These winds, also known as the infamous "witches' winds," are synonymous with the winds of Sirrocco in Italy, Sharkije in Egypt, Sharav in the Middle East, the Foen in Central Europe, and the Santa Ana in California. He found that the high concentration of positive ions that are carried by these winds would stimulate an over-production of serotonin and histamine in their bodies, causing allergies, migraines, difficulty in breathing, irritibility, and anxiety. In addition, he found that an excess of positive ions would also stimulate the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which initially induces a state of euphoria and hyperactivity, but quickly leads to depletion, exhaustion, anxiety, and depression. Although serotonin is extremely crucial to the functioning of our bodies, he concluded that these "weather sensitive" individuals were producing too much and were being poisoned by their own serotonin. He thus coined the term "Serotonin Irritation Syndrome."
Dr. Sulman also studied the biological effects of artificially produced postive and negative ions. When he exposed a group of people to high-density positive ions in an enclosed room, they became irritable and fatigued. Yet these same people, when exposed to high-density negative ions, experienced increased alertness and relaxation. They also exhibited slower and stronger brainwaves (alpha waves), which were recorded on an electroencephalogram.
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